When I see news coverage of natural disasters occurring around the world, my heart sinks. The devastation of lives and the livelihood of those affected is heart-wrenching and sobering all in the same breath. I can't begin to fathom the pain felt from the loss of a loved one or life as one knows it. And when the affected area is special to our heart, a place where we have friends or family, or a place we once lived or visited, we feel a deep heaviness. We often want to do something right away, however there is so much to be done.
For me, this was especially the case in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Although I knew no one personally who lived there, I felt for New Orleanians in a special way. I'll tell you why....
I grew up in a small town in North Carolina and was privileged to be surrounded at an early age by teachers and community leaders who took me under their wing. My eighth grade English teacher ushered me into several youth groups through her nonprofit organization. Soon thereafter, I would begin to see life beyond the Carolinas.
Early in my Junior year of high school, one of the groups set out to make New Orleans our Spring Break destination location. We immediately brainstormed ways to raise money so we could charter a bus and reserve hotel rooms. This was going to be our 'good grades reward trip'! I lost track of the number of candy bars, raffle tickets, and carwashes I sold! Eight months later, we loaded on the bus for our 12 hour journey and I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and excitement.
I still have vivid memories of our time there: strolling down the riverwalk and through the French Market, devouring beignets and jambalyaya, and learning about the rich historical influence of France and Spain. I even recall learning the unique way they have to construct burial plots because the city is below sea level.
A year later, I visited again with another youth group. This time I attended a concert in the Superdome, dancing and singing at the top of my lungs. Little would I know that a decade later, this massive structure would be used as a refugee camp for residents whose homes were swept away by floods. Being exposed to New Orleans as a student in the 90s connected me on a deeper level to this American city as unique as they come. Knowing that I had stepped foot in places that were now covered with water and lifeless bodies was overwhelming.
Most of us living in the US at the time can probably remember where we were the moment we heard about Katrina. I immediately wanted to jump on a plane and help out in some little way. I recall feelings of sadness as I heard about so many who were unable to evacuate in time. Imagining the separation of families and the loss of lives. It's times like these when you want to offer things money can't buy: love, hope, comfort in knowing that someone cares. This instance is no different than many other disasters that have happened all over the world. Floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, wildfires, tsumanis and the like...they all have a tug on our heart in some way.
Years passed by before an opportunity fell in my lap to travel back to New Orleans. I had attempted to find service opportunities on different occasions, but they never panned out. In 2011, a friend of mine who attended a sister church in Canada told me about disciples in the Toronto Church sponsoring a trip to New Orleans. Brothers and sisters had traveled by car from Toronto all the way to New Orleans annually for the past 3 years!
They committed a week of their vacation time to work with the St. Bernard Project refurbishing homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina. As soon as I found out about the effort, I was on board! I finally had the opportunity to do something for a place that held so many fond memories for me. It was a privilege and an honor to work along side these disciples and the local community to ensure that residents could return "home".
Although it was encouraging to see that great progress had been made over the years, I also saw firsthand work that still needed to be done. It's so easy for traumatic events to be out of sight-out of mind after a while. One disaster gets overshadowed by the next one, and although they equally need our support and attention, we can miss the fact that there's still a need over there.
According to Idealist.org, the best way we can help an affected area initially is to give money to a trusted organization that is qualified to execute funds most effectively. However, down the road, we can have an even great impact by becoming a "long-haul volunteer". It often takes years for cities to recover after a natural disaster. And often times, the fact that someone like you or me "show up" when the dust settles makes all the difference in the world. Organizations like Habitat for Humanity and United Way can be great places to start looking for opportunities to help rebuild disaster-torn areas years later. And Come and Stay looks forward to helping disciples connect in cities like New Orleans when a tug on the heart reappears. N'awlins will always have a special place in my heart.
In the wake of the recent Louisiana floods, Come & Stay will donate $2 to the Hope Worldwide Disaster Response fund for every new crowdfunding contributor between now and Monday, August 29, the 11th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Help us reach our phase one goal and contribute to our crowdfunding campaign today!